Friday, 10 June 2011

'Take a Hike'...Before Your Doctor Tells You To!

Don Pearson is the General Manager
of Conservation Ontario

Thank you to Dr. Conrad Sichler from Burlington Ontario who was featured in a recent Toronto Star article by Andrea Gordon (June 3, 2011) as one of many doctors pulling out their prescription pads to send patients out on ‘nature walks’ to alleviate their stress and depression. The prescribed dosage – “repeat as often as you can.”
These ‘Park Prescriptions’ must be getting good reviews from patients and doctors alike, because according to Gordon’s article,  some American health centres have taken this concept a step further and are developing partnerships with parks and conservation areas to get more kids out hiking, biking and just enjoying nature.
As owners of more than 144,000 hectares of some of Ontario’s best forested lands, wetlands, water resources and open spaces - most of which are easily accessible to the majority of Ontario’s population - Conservation Authorities can play a key role in helping our population to achieve better mental and physical health. And many of you apparently agree - in 2010, there were over 5 million visitors to conservation areas. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I can’t think of a better area for public investment!
Conservation Authorities plan on playing a bigger role in growing healthier Ontarians. This was identified as one of four Strategic Goals in Conservation Ontario’s new Strategic Plan: Sharing Conservation Authority Strengths –Strategic Directions 2011 to 2015.
Like many other agencies relying on some level of government investment, Conservation Authorities recognize that our public financial resources are being increasingly consumed by our health care system; and if a case can be made for spending public money on the health of the environment, it will be more successful if it can be made in terms of impact on human health. 
Conservation Authorities recognize the need for more partnerships and closer linkages between health and our environment and, as a first step, they are committed to reinforcing and demonstrating the direct connections between healthy local environments and social and health care goals. As their Strategic Plan rolls out over the next five years, you will see Conservation Authorities engaging more closely with human health experts in order to strengthen this connection and lend credibility to the argument that healthy and accessible green spaces are critical to our personal sense of health and well-being. 
If you still need some convincing, then note that this message is one that is consistently reinforced by another strong advocate – Dr. John Howard, a Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at the London Health Sciences Centre, and Chair of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. Dr. Howard promotes an ‘ecosystem health’ model that asks ‘Why is this patient here and what can I do to prevent others from having the same illness?’ Basically, the idea is to protect human health by protecting the planet. This is one ideal that should be near and dear to all our hearts.

Conservation Authorities have a full plate with their day to day operations but nothing is more important than making sure that the natural areas they manage are resilient, healthy and accessible. Hopefully more people will decide to take advantage of them  - before they require a doctor’s prescription to do so.

Original Article: Doctors prescribe the great outdoors to get patients moving (Toronto Star, Andrea Gordon, June 3, 2011)

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